In Place of an Afterword: Sixty Years a PriestMONSIGNOR GEORG RATZINGER & MICHAEL HESEMANN
On June 29, 2011, the Pope and his brother celebrated their "diamond priestly jubilee", the sixtieth anniversary of their ordination as priests on June 29, 1951, in the cathedral in Freising.
Shortly before his departure for Rome, I asked Georg Ratzinger for a résumé, so to speak, a look back on his own priesthood and the unusual career of his brother. Central to that interview, however, was the question of what it means in the first place to be a priest in our time.
Absolutely! I cannot imagine at all how my life could have taken a different course. From childhood on, practically speaking, it was my goal, of which I never lost sight. And that is true of my brother, also: even though one thing or another did not develop as we had planned, nevertheless, the direction was clear from the beginning. So we both followed this path with all its consequences, and so today I can only say: I am heartily grateful to the dear Lord that he gave me the strength to travel this path without any ifs, ands, or buts. You simply sense his guidance and providence. Life holds certain difficulties in store for every human being, but if you have such a beautiful, fulfilling goal, if you sense that the Lord is near and you can follow so unwaveringly the way leading to him, then you can only exclaim with your whole heart: Deo gratias! (Thanks be to God!)
I think so; yes, you can put it that way!
Yes, by all means, that is correct. Above all, when a priest is engaged in pastoral care, when he then really makes an effort for the people and is not just watching the clock, he often receives infinitely rich blessings.
Unfortunately in B. for a time there was a pastor who publicly declared: "I don't let it burn me out!" That was a caricature of a priest, because anyone who thinks that way really should never have been allowed to be ordained. If someone really takes the care of souls to heart and sees in every human being he meets someone who wants to go to Christ, even though he knows that in the immediate situation the Lord's authority is expressed only in a weak priest, then he experiences such a great response, even from quarters where he actually would never have expected it. And I mean not just the gratitude of those with whom he deals directly; it comes then from quite different directions, also. That is when you first sense that it is really a blessing to be a priest. Someone who becomes a blessing for others is rewarded a thousandfold by the Lord and is then truly blessed. In that respect, the privilege of being a priest and serving the Lord is really a certain ideal.
That is difficult to say, actually. I have always understood my activity in the field of music to be pastoral work, also, for with everything we sang, even if it was not liturgical music, we tried to convey to people something of God's greatness. Even the secular pieces that do not lead us away from God communicate to us something of the glory of his creation.
But if you ask me about the most beautiful moments of my priestly life, then I have to say: It was always a solemn liturgy that we were able to help organize by means of magnificent music, in a beautiful church setting, in the worshipping community, when the people are reverent and a silence prevails that is not artificially created or commandeered but comes about on its own, precisely out of that reverence. A liturgy, though, in which the human senses are filled, too: the eye, the ear, and then the sense of smell through the incense, which also makes an important contribution. Those are indeed moments of happiness that you do not get in that form and intensity at a secular concert, however beautifully it is performed! This exaltation, this sense of being fulfilled and borne up at a Solemn High Mass, comes from somewhere else, after all, of that I am convinced!
I certainly could say that, yes! After all, the prayer of a human being, whether vocal prayer, common prayer, or even silent, private prayer, has its limits somewhere. Praise of God that is sung and set to music, in contrast, grips him holistically, not merely personally, the way he is. It lends him another, entirely new dimension, which vocal, mental, or meditative prayer cannot attain to the same extent.
By all means, yes. It can also be a path leading away from him; think, for example, of the marching songs of the Hitler era or also the products of the secular entertainment industry, which only stir up human passions. Music can also be an instrument of the devil, but it is also an instrument of God.
If you look at it from a purely human perspective, then of course it was chance. But when a believing person looks at his whole life, the way it unfolded, then he recognizes that it was a higher act of providence that led him purposefully to its goal — not to his! If you look at this path, how directly it actually ran: from a little acolyte to a theology student, then to an assistant pastor, an instructor, professor, prelate, bishop ... it is a stepladder in which each step had a particular meaning, on which he, practically speaking, kept moving forward, kept climbing a bit higher — not because he wanted it that way, not because he always advanced out of ambition, but because someone impelled him to take each of these steps, and he actually yielded only out of the conscientious fulfillment of his duty, constantly striving to perform the mission that was assigned to him.
Personally, he was never ambitious, he really was not! But he was always conscientious and bore every responsibility that was imposed on him to the best of his ability. In doing so, he always had his doubts; he asked himself again and again whether he was really accomplishing in the best possible way what was being demanded of him, whether he was really doing everything he could to live up to the trust that others placed in him.
No, he quite certainly did not. When Hans Küng claims that he was always striving for a position in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, that is sheer nonsense. I know him too well for that. He was convinced he had the special talent for explaining theology well and the grace to live this faith and to think correctly about it and that he was, therefore, actually a good teacher.
And that is precisely what he wanted to be, no more and no less; he saw that as his destiny. He never thought about any external honors in doing so; to him they were, instead, always unwelcome.
Quite right; that is exactly it.
Yes, it happened by itself. I also know several priests who do their utmost to receive titles and honors, but that was never his style. He was always concerned about the matter at hand. He would like to perform his duty as well as he possibly can. For that reason, he has received certain talents along the way, and someday he will have to give an accounting of them.
. . . precisely because he senses quite clearly this boundary between the man and the office and knows his limits. Of course, he knows that all this applies, not to him personally, but rather to him as a representative of a higher authority, as pope. He certainly knows how to make that distinction. As pope, a man must accept all that with an open heart; as a person, it would not suit him.
I wish with all my heart that my brother will be spared health problems as much as possible and that he can always carry out well and unhindered his ministry as the successor of Peter. And then I wish that someday "on the other side", where we will all have to pass the exam (Ex-Amen), the final test, he will stand before the heavenly examiner and everything will end well; I am convinced, though, that it will.
After all, throughout his life, he has always asked first what God's will is and then wholeheartedly strove to follow him wherever he led him.
Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.
Monsignor Georg Ratzinger is a Catholic priest and the elder brother of Pope Benedict XVI. Michael Hesemann is a German historian, journalist and author, specialized on Church history.
Copyright © 2012 Ignatius Press
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